Spoiler warning for everything I mention.
“I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.”
– Joshua 1:9
I can’t really recall my first time with Star Wars. I can recall seeing each of the prequels in the cinema though. My little feet tripping with excitement, my face lighting up when the CGI blitzkrieg came upon me… I was young. I grew older, grew more bitter and swore at the prequels. They now, in my mind, were the ‘other ones’. I re-watched the full saga over and over, it became a stepping stone of my childhood to adulthood. Star Wars, to me, is one of ‘bumps’ of pop culture… it’s goddamn everywhere. I’ve been going over them with my film theory glasses on and there’s something about each of the episodes which sends a shiver down my writer’s side.
Empire Strikes Back is still one of the finest pieces of science-fiction cinema every constructed, and to me personally it’s one of the best films ever made. A New Hope however… is a bit silly to start ranting on about? Indeed, I was going to just throw myself at Empire and be done with it, but re-watching A New Hope I’ve taken a new liking to it. I always saw it as ‘Act One’. better than Jedi obviously but Empire stands way too tall for A New Hope to be considered in the same league.
This’ll probably be 100% film theory because I simply haven’t the time to find reading materials, web readings and other bits to string together something a lot more academic. This is my interpretation and theorizing behind A New Hope, a film I see as stretching outwards into biblical proportions. Faith itself.
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
From the beginning of the story we’re shown a Rebel force that is, in one word, hopeless. We’re shown them absolutely massacred in the face of the sweeping fist of the empire and (suddenly) we’re then thrown into a smaller story. The story of this farmboy with big ambition, with big hopes and dreams and the ‘New Hope’ title becomes all the more potent. We’re shown the very humble beginnings of this little Tatooine boy who, eventually, saves the goddamn galaxy from an imperialist force that borrows the name of its military force (Stormtroopers) straight from the goddamn Nazis.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Hope seems to be an underlying theme throughout the entire Star Wars saga but I think it’s probably more explicit throughout the fourth episode. Somewhat because this is the one where Luke has to find out who he is, what he’s capable of and become a Jedi knight so he can kick his dad in the shins. With the force, obviously. Ben Kenobi seems to be this mystical, mysterious character that we’re introduced to quite quickly and then told to trust him because of this strange aura that (I feel) once again returns with Yoda. Age, tradition and that twinge of wisdom.
Kenobi is a figure of faith, an image of hope for Leia. He is a relic of the old age in which the Jedi ruled, and he himself says that the battle against the empire would be an “Idealistic crusade.” Interesting to note the use of religious language throughout the film. Grand Moff Tarkin and other Empire high-commanders all refer to Jedi as an “ancient religion” filled with “sorcerer’s” and Vader violently harms Admiral Motti when he calls Vader’s devotion “sad”.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
I don’t want to be the one to investigate whether or not Vader represents religious extremism or any kind of sub-text allegorising blah blah blah. It’s stupid and way too superficial in film theory to assert that “this means that”, I’m simply saying that “this could mean that and also this and weeeee!” It’s a lot more fun that way. I am more however inclined to see both Kenobi and Vader as polar opposites within the sphere of faith of the force. Kenobi tells Luke to do “What you feel is right” and the use of ‘feel’ comes throughout the entire film.
Luke says “I have a bad feeling about this.” Just before the “That’s no moon…” Moment. Han even uses it in the garbage chute. It’s interesting to note that Han remarks himself that he’s “Never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all powerful force controlling everything.” Whether or not the force could be synonymous with a belief in a higher power, namely a theistic belief, is something worth note.
“Feeling” isn’t like ‘Faith’ though exactly is it? Except to have faith, we have to have trust in something. In Empire even Vader uses ‘feeling’ with… “Search your feelings, you know this to be true.” Right after revealing himself to be Luke’s father. Probably the biggest ‘mind=blown’ moment in all of science fiction cinema history. Faith is used as an instrument of truth, and the physical (or what little ‘physical’) manifestation of faith is the force.
“That’s good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.”
“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. It was our sins that did that to Him, that ripped and tore and crushed Him.”
– Isaiah 53:5
“We seem to be made to suffer!” Threepio laments as he walks across the sand dunes of Tatooine. The burden that Threepio and R2 carry might determine the fate of the entire galaxy, and it is indeed a burden. Both Threepio and R2 find themselves under immense punishment of the Jawas, and then the burden passes over to Luke. What little family he has is completely murdered and (eventually) the burden passes on to Han, Leia and (eventually) the entire Rebel force.
The burden of the cross might be, in a A New Hope, the death star plans. Planets are destroyed over it and the Empire seems to stop at nothing, desperate for the first time it seems. What happens, however, is that in such punish circumstances there’s a renewal of faith. R2 has the plans at first, and he goes off into his journey believing in his “mission”. A prophet in his own right. Soon Threepio and Luke are swayed to the idea, when Luke’s family is murdered, and eventually Han joins in the crusade right at the end to save the goddamn universe because he’s Han goddamn Solo.
The “destiny” that Obi-Wan speaks of seems to exist in people’s heads. But, it happens doesn’t it? The ‘prophecy’ that was talked about in the ‘other films’ came true? That was a destiny wasn’t it? There’s an element of fate to the Star Wars universe that has been covered and investigated much more dashingly by other writers. Go! Google them!
After seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi die, Luke hears voices in his head. Surely this is the mark of hallucination? Some people see it as the absolute fringe of Luke’s idealism and heroism, his very faith. That he begins to hear the voices, and eventually see apparitions of the dead. The eternal line of “May the force be with you” runs straight into the Rebel briefing, which confused me at first because I don’t see the Rebels as representing or in fact preserving the old Jedi order’s values.
Nevertheless, the punishment of the characters amplifies the desperation and thus the faith itself. Right at the very end we see a Luke who turns off his targeting computer at the request of the voices in his head. It’s the most maddening thing in the entire saga, I feel, an probably the biggest gamble of belief until then. In fact, seeing A New Hope as ‘the first Star Wars‘ is absolutely perfect in cementing something. The audience’s belief in the force.
We too are punished. Our favourite characters suffer, we watch people die, we see planets destroyed and (in Empire especially) things look exceptionally weak under the Empire. Except, under such punishing circumstance, we turn to heroism and the goodness in humanity. We too believe in the force, something we can’t actually see.
“Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.”
Hope and Theism
“Tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.”
– Romans 5:3-4
I’m not one to state, at every turn, about my beliefs. I believe they have nothing to do politics, government, media, opinions or whatever. I don’t think your belief can be evidence for your argument against abortion, that your doctrine is just a belief and not a weighted set of arguments. Moralistically, there is some weight to it, but I’m not one who believes that government can be theocratic. I don’t, on the other hand, believe that religion is evil. I believe that the good things can’t detract from the bad things and that, for the most part, evil men have made an excuse out of religion to act out their own wishes. I believe militant atheism to be the absolute epitome of intellectual masturbation, god I love that phrase (heh ‘god’) and I think it doesn’t belong in film theory whatsoever.
I am, however, at the end of the day going to interfere with my own writing. Literature, film or whatever is merely (at the end of the day) an extreme study of both the conscious and sub-conscious intentions of the director/author/whatever. Whether or not George Lucas is a believer can be answered with a quick Google, but instead, I’m here to answer something else.
Throughout this flimsy lamentation of film theory I have referred, endlessly, to ‘belief’ and ‘feeling’ and the ‘force’. I think it’s quite silly to see the force as an “all powerful force controlling everything”, as Han Solo believes, I instead think the force and the people co-exist and help each other. Obi-Wan himself says it only “partially” controls your actions. I’m still not, addressing, however just how Star Wars addresses theism.
I don’t want my beliefs to interfere with my film theory, but it’s important for you to know this. I don’t want you to think anything of it, but you do need to know that I do believe in God. I won’t go into detail because then it’d turn into some personal waxing, but my belief in God did not come from Star Wars or ‘the force’. It came from something else, but what I do see in Star Wars isn’t entirely an underlying ‘theism’ approach to hope or faith or whatever. It’s simply ‘the force’, something which binds us and keeps us all together.
Perhaps ‘love’ might be better a term? Although “Use the love!” might be straight out of a Nineties porno.
Oh god I just implied I watch retro pornography.
A New Hope is about a lot of things. It’s about heroism, David vs Goliath, some essences of neo-classicalist, it’s about journeys (perhaps biblical ones, redemption through the entire saga, Darth Vader’s sacrifice being a tragic alignment with that of Jesus Christ etc.), it’s about discovery, it’s about faith, it’s about love, it’s about diversity but… what I think it really is at its core is about hope. Hope against the machine, that there will be a brighter tomorrow. I honestly think Star Wars is about self-belief, it’s a moral compass that points to our very self. We are the masters of our own destiny, and the ‘all-powerful force’ co-exists. It doesn’t force us, or care and it might love us or be indifferent.
On second thoughts… my beliefs might be interfering very heavily with my own interpretation of Star Wars.
What do you think?